Textures : A Weekend With Words by The Arts House is about celebrating the power and beauty of words. The programmes include Performances and Readings (one of which is yesterday morning’s Just Write Your Legacy : Guided Autobiography for Seniors), Workshops, Talks and Panel Discussions and Exhibitions.

Yesterday afternoon’s The Witness of Poetry : Emotions, Trauma and Healing was conducted by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde and Eric Tinsay Valles. I had signed up for this workshop because I wanted to “discover how poetry may offer a powerful means of healing as they excavate buried emotions and express them in crafted language – and how the truth of one’s experience may articulate itself through captivating image and sound”.

A quote from Kon: “Poetry can be deeply moving. As we read or write our lines, the mere activity of attending to our emotions can offer respite and healing. This is a poetry of therapy, where language helps the self do the work of retrieval, engagement, and contemplation. It’s about sitting with our personal history, and allowinig our small stories to freely relate themselves on the page.”

A lot of material were printed and given to the participants, but Kon and Valles only had enough time to go through them cursorily. Kon introduced works by Gertrude Stein and Bertolt Brecht (World War II), Miklos Radnoti (The Holocaust, The Shoah), Edmond Jabes and Fadwa Tuquan (War in the Middle East), and Bei Dao (Revolution and the Struggle for Democracy in China). Valles shared the philosophies of Katherine Schafler (‘all trauma arises from loss and the four ways to deal with it are to understand brokeness, recognising symptoms of brokeness, touch grief and move on’), Carl Sandburg (‘Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance’ – giving witness to hope amid chaos and human frailty), poet Whitehead (‘Trauma survivors face the paradox of describing in language something that exists outside of language’), St Augustine (religious and ethical viewpoints) and Walter Benjamin (scientific pirnciples).

Valles also spoke on the Craft of Poetry – use of figurative language and imagery as a response to trauma, condensing a mysterious experience to an image (sight) in language and setting it to music (sound) through a unique voice (a distinctive lyrical speaker). Boey Kim Cheng’s Kelong is used to illustrate a trauma poem.

I perked up at Kon’s poem, The East Is Red, an ode to inevitability. (The East Is Red, /The West Is Blue, /Elvis is dead, /Confucius too.) In discussing the element of craft for trauma writing where language is the heart and soul, Valles also pointed out that nowadays rhymes are considered old-fashioned and poems can even be in prose form. After sharing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, the participants were asked to do an exercise. After drawing blindfolded a picture of a plant, participants are to write a poem about a person.

This was challenging: I can’t draw for nuts, not even with my eyes open, so how was I going to draw with my eyes closed? Out of desperation, I scribbled what I thought were circles anti-clockwise and two straight lines below and a horizontal line right at the bottom without lifting my pen. Surprisingly, when I looked I did see a tree.

I’m not one who can write poems spontaneously, so again out of desperation, I thought long and hard. I panicked when I saw everyone writing away (some even filling one whole A4 sheet). We were given ten minutes and I think more than 5 minutes had passed. I thought of the image, alliteration and rhythmic pattern and came up with one of the shortest poems (another lady’s was one word less than mine): Lush leaves, /Thick trunk; /Providing shade, /Giving shelter. When I looked up, most poeple were still writing. Every participant had to share both picture and poem, and I was really surprised that before I started reading my poem, Valles correctly guessed who I had in mind!

Before the workshop ended, participants were urged to read Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Child’s Garden, Hart Crane’s Logic of Metaphor, poems by Ezra Pound and books by David Brooks.That’s quite a tall order.

A handout on the new local poetic form, invented by Kon and Valles, called Anima Methodi, was also given out.

This has indeed been a heavy, though fruitful, workshop session!



ACM Lunchtime Concert

One of the three events I attended today is the lunchtime concert at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). This is a collaboration between ACM and YSTCM (Yong Siew Toh Connservatory of Music). Today’s performance is purely piano. The performers are mostly Year 1 piano majors (with one in Year 2 of the Bachelor of Music programme and one in the Young Artist Programme, potentially a YST student in the near future).

Performed on the Bosendorfer baby grand piano (pictured above), the pieces range from Baroque to Romantic to Twentieth century music.

The concert opens with the lively and colourful Sonata in B-flat Major, K 545  by Domenico Scarlatti (Italian, 1685-1757). This is followed by Etude in E Major, opus 72 No 2 by Moritz Moszkowski (German, 1854-1925), a piece often played in piano competitions. In fact, the pianist who played this today could have played this very piece in one of the piano competitions she took part in (and she took part in many, winning some of them). It is definitely a good piece to display the nifty fingerwork and solid technique of the performer.

Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI:32 by Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1732-1809) is quite a distinctive work. Right from the first mordent (immaculately executed), I was inspired to rush home, dig out my scores and relearn it, although I know I would never be able to play it as beautifully or with enough dexterity. Perhaps I could fumble through it and imagine the delicious sounds in my head.

I have long thought that compositions by Alexander Scriabin (Russian, 1871-1915) are too challenging for me, but the pianist today played the Two Poems, opus 32 with such airy innocence and dreamy harmonies that I’m tempted to give it a try. However, I held that thought for only a couple of minutes. The music becomes so microscosmic and chromatic that I know it demands a transcendental technique that I do not possess. I would never be able to do justice to the texture and I do not have the required touch and immense power to unleash the musical quality of this piece of work.

The second of Franz Liszt’s (Hungarian, 1811-1886) Three Concert Etudes, S. 144 (La Leggierezza) demands a virtuosic technique beyond my ability. At most, I may be able to pick out the deceptively simple melodic lines in each hand separately. The fingers have to be unusually flexible to play the many frentic, difficult and complex patterns/passages like chromatic arpeggios and rapid leggiero chromatic runs with irregular rhythmic groupings. Hence it was such a pleasure to watch another pianist’s fingers flying up and down the keyboard.

The next item is Frederic Chopin’s (Polish, 1810-1849) Etude in C Major, opus 10 No 1 & Etude in C Minor, opus 10 No 12 (“Revolutionary”). These are exercises that are (especially to this listener) dizzling and both have a hypnotic charm to them. There is a lot of chromaticism (even in the left hand octave melody!) and uninterrupted arpeggios, yet has a chorale type of harmony. The length and repetition of rapid passages is relentless and challenging. There is a lot of tension. I won’t even attempt to play any of these Chopin Etudes when my sole attempt at opus 12 no 3 isn’t even up to scratch.

Claude Debussy’s (French, 1862-1918) L’isle Joyeuse is an extended solo piece which is based on the whole-tone scale, the lydian mode and the diatonic scale. It is an extremely profound piece (the technical hurdles, the different rhythmic patterns, the extensive use of pedalling, the colour and layered textures). Perhaps that is one reason that this piece is the finale of the day. I shall stick to playing pieces like Clair de lune and Arabesques Nos 1 & 2.

SSO Lunchtime Concert

This being the last week of Term 1 in the school calendar, I’m not surprised that a few rows of seats at the Victoria Concert Hall are reserved for a group of primary school pupils and their teachers. I’m surprised that they are given the best seats when perhaps it would have been more prudent to have assigned them seats in the upper foyer where the tiny ones would not only have a good view but also cause less distraction with the unwanted sounds (some loud and discordant, others disturbing and interfering).

Today’s programme should have appealed to everybody, so I really am puzzled why the primary school pupils were not as angelic as some other even younger children in the audience. I wonder if they had been briefed before this ‘learning journey’ on etiquette in the concert hall. However, it did not mar my enjoyment of the concert too much.

Conducted by the affable Joshua Tan, Associate Conductor of the SSO (Singapore Symphony Orchestra), the orchestra opened the concert with Rossini’s (1792-1868) Overture to Il Signor Bruschino. It is lighthearted, energetic and irreverent. The most striking feature is when the second violins tap their music stands in seemingly random patterns which brings delight to the audience. The light humour throughout and the sudden interjections are seamlessly brought together by the masterly gestures and directions of Tan. The thrilling crescendos bring the piece to an exhilarating close.

Next on the programme is the iconic 1st Movement from Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Symphony No 5. One of the best-known compositions in classical music, the opening is full of vigour and electrifying energy. This familiar four-note rhythmic figure (da-da-da-DUM; da-da-da-DUM) is ever present throughout the phrases and paragraphs (in different guises, in both major and minor keys) and is actually very complex and multi-layered. At one point, the music suddenly crashes and stops, only to wind up again and go off in another direction.

Erik Satie’s (1866-1925) Gymnopedies Nos 1 & 3 are known staples for all piano students. I paricularly like No 1, because it’s seemingly simple (but is not), gentle and dreamy. The opening chords embed themselves in the head and the music becomes muddy, complex and even spooky later on. Today’s performance is orchestrated by Claude Debussy (French composer, 1862-1918), an older contemporary and a friend. Listening to this is like “we are moving slowly around a piece of sculpture and examining it from a different point of view.” (Constant Lambert, British composer, 1905-1951)

Another iconic classical piece of music is the great Symphony No 40 by Mozart (1756-1791. It is one of three symphonies (nos 39, 40 & 41) Mozart wrote within three months when he was having significant financial difficulties. This movement starts darkly, with breathless energy, played by the lower strings with divided violas. It is catchy and the listener is transported to a world of anguished harmonies and heightened tension, with a contrasting theme providing respite. Regrettably, someone decided to make it one of the most annoying mobile ringtones around, after the Taiwanese girl band S.H.E. came up with a song called “Don’t Wanna Grow Up” in 2005.

Austrian-born Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is a noted pianist and composer of classical music, but is better known for his Hollywood scores (Captain Blood in 1935, Juarez in 1939, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939, The Sea Hawk in 1940, The Sea Wolf in 1941, King’s Row in 1942; both Anthony Adverse, 1936, and The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938, won Oscars). Today’s performance of Theme and Variarions Op 42 is written on a commission for American school orchestras. It has a simple theme – played “in the manner of an Irish folk tune” – and is followed by a set of seven variations. This is the last of his works.

The finale for the day is Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Waltz from Divertimento, chosen because it helps promote the SSO concert next month (West Side Story). The stars here are the string players, especially the cellists and violinists. It is exuberant with reminiscences and tributes. The melodic basis is the two-note “germ” B-C (representing Boston Centenary).

Attending this concert is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy my lunchtime, even at the expense of eating a proper lunch.


It’s been a while since Julie Garwood has a new book; imagine my delight when I saw this 2017 book (in Large Print) on the library shelf! I’ve never read any book in this series (Buchanan-Renard series) before and this is the 13th installment. (Though I’ve read a few of her other books and deemed them pretty good.)

I expected a good read, not just because of what I’ve come to know of the author from a few of her earlier books but also because of a quote on the inside cover: Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

The plot: Allison Trent is a college student who models on the side. She not only has a gorgeous face but also a brilliant mind. (Her uncanny ability was first noticed when as an 8-year-old she was asked to help her older sister put a new 500-piece puzzle together and she completed it in 25 minutes.) She can solve 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles in minutes and she can write – and hack – code. There is no programme she cannot fix or hack. She is recruited by the FBI to work with agent Liam Scott on a leak in his department. He needs to find out who the traitor is, but he can’t use another agent, so Allison comes in.

The sub-plot: Jordon Clayborne is a legend and genius in the technology field and Allison’s best friend. Their friendship would ultimately change Allison’s life. Jordon’s husband is also a FBI agent. . .

The story is rather interesting and the writing is very readable (maybe the large print also helps) but there are some parts unnecessary to the point of being unbelievable (eg the other sub-plot involving Allison’s uncle, aunt and cousin is a bit too over-the-top).

Singapore is also mentioned once: Liam also works on other cases simultaneously in places such as Honolulu, Brussels and Washington. Maybe the author can consider penning a novel set in Singapore?

Red Sparrow

I’ve wanted to watch this movie the first time I saw the trailer (I saw it thrice), and when I read the newpaper review (which rated it only 3 stars out of 5) and found out that it involves a ballerina, I knew I must watch it.

This is the first time Jennifer Lawrence stars in a spy thriller (as far as I know), playing Dominika Egorova, a ballerina whose career at the Bolshoi is abruptly cut due to a horrible ‘accident’. (But ‘there are no accidents; we create our own fate’.) She is a devoted daughter and is manipulated by her uncle, Ivan Egorova (Matthias Schoenaerts) to join the Russian Intelligence Service. She emerges the top trainee from a perverse and sadistic training programme at State School 4 (which she calls the ‘whore school’).

Dominika is assigned to find a mole, and is given a fake identity to extract the name from an American (CIA agent Nate Nash, played by Joel Edgerton). The plot and characterization are complex. There is double-crossing (or triple-crossing), revenge, and violence; there is a hint of what a complex character Dominika is – she has tenacity, fiery wit, an aptitude for both enduring and inflicting violence – because she may have experience trauma, abuse or even incest. (I must read the book – by Jason Matthews – to find out.) She understands what it takes to survive.

The plot means many scenes take place in different countries (besides Russia) – Budapest, Vienna, London – and the location managers/coordinators and photography units have done a good job in capturing some awesome aerial views. That Dominika was a ballerina means there are scenes of ballet performances (whether she’s dancing – with the help of a dance double – or watching others dance) and lovely music (by Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bach and Grieg). The rest of the music (by James Newton Howard) all depict the various scenes well (stirring orchestral music, percussive and pulsating music, tutti, suspenseful and mysterious music, foreboding and soaring orchestral music).

It’s definitely worth the price of admission.

The Glass Castle

This 2017 movie is based on a 2005 memoir by Jeanette Walls. It recounts the unconventional, poverty-striken upbringing Jeanette (played by Brie Larson, the second oldest of four children) and her siblings had at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents (Rex, played by Woody Harrelson, is an alcoholic dreamer and Rose Mary, played by Naomi Watts, is an eccentric artist). The family moves from place to place every few months when their debts grow too numerous – Arizona, California, Nevada, West Virginia. It must have been very disturbing and tumultuous to grow up in such environment.

The glass castle is one that Rex hopes to build – an energy-efficient beauty with glass all around to let Nature in without letting the rough invade. It never gets built but the childeren’s heads are filled with unrealistic hopes and dreams of a better life. They learn to take care of themselves and learn to come to terms with their nomadic and poverty-striken childhood. As adults, the children settle in the Big Apple while thier parents squat in an abandoned building and go round ransacking trash cans.

Three things strike me as outstanding: the acting, the cinematography and the music. All the actors are good, especially Harrelson, Chandler Head and Ella Anderson (who both played young Jeanette at age 5/6 and 10 respectively). The emotions are very well expressed. Thanks to the location managers, photography unit and aerial photography, the landscapes – in daylight and nightime, from dusty ones to snowfall – are visually impressive. The music – about two dozen of them, mostly originals but also including a Cole Porter number (‘Don’t Fence Me In‘) and  traditional ones (‘O Christmas Tree’ and ‘My Wild Irish Rose‘) – all of which enhance the mood and atmosphere.

This is a fascinating and complex story; it has prompted me to read the memoir to find out more details.

The Ultimatum

I have always been eager to read Karen Robards’ novels, so I was very excited when I saw this latest book (published in 2017) on the library shelf. I borrowed it without even looking at the blurb.

To my utter disappointment, this book is totally unlike any of her other books! (She has written about 50, and I’ve read them all.) It’s also the first in a new series, called The Guardian. The next time I see a Karen Robards book on the library shelf, I’ll be sure to check that it’s not the next one in this series, and I’ll be sure to read the blurb too.

To be fair to the author, the first chapter is really good. It captures my attention immediately. I turn the pages eagerly, expecting more. But what a let-down it is! Plot and story aside, the writing style is such a departure from Robards’ that it seems as though someone else has written it.

The story: Bianca St Ives, previously known as Beth, is smart, talented and beautiful. She is also a thief, a manipulator and a con artist. She makes a living swindling con men out of money they stole and retun it to the rightful owners. In this installment, she is on a mission to uncover what has happened to millions of dollars, some top secret government documents and her father…

All the jetting around means different locations – Gudaibiya Palace in Bahrain, Four Seasons Scareinersma Bay Hotel in North Manama (Vegas by way of the Middle East), Savannah in Georgia, a Mediterranean Club House in the middle of San Francisco Bay and Heiligenblnt in Austria. Flights from Bangladesh to Singapore and from Atlanta to San Francisco are mentioned; and so are places like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatrez. Even Tony Bennett crooning his signature It Had To Be You live on stage at a party in Bahrain is mentioned. These would make interesting backdrops for a movie, if the rights are ever acquired for making one. (But the screenwriter would have a tough job with the plot.)